- The Honorable Ajit Pai, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission
- The Honorable Mignon Clyburn, Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission
- The Honorable Michael O’Rielly, Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
The hearing will be held in Senate Hart Office Building, Room 216. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
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Chairman John Thune
Welcome to today’s hearing on oversight of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Much has changed since the last time we were here six months ago. We have a new FCC chairman, a new majority in charge of the agency, and we have several new members of this committee for whom this is their first FCC oversight hearing. At our last hearing, I said I hoped to see changes to how the Commission operates. I urged “all members of the Commission to treat each other fairly, to respect the law, to be willing to ask Congress for guidance, and to seek consensus whenever and wherever possible.” While it is still early days, I am heartened because the new FCC leadership seems to have heeded this advice.
The FCC’s first actions under Chairman Pai were to make much needed reforms to improve the agency’s processes and transparency. Counter to the trend of Chairman Pai’s recent predecessors, who often sought to amass as much power in the chairman’s office as they could, these simple steps instead empower the public and the other commissioners.
Chairman Pai has emphasized that bridging the digital divide will be one of the “core principles” guiding the agency under his leadership. Representing a rural state where many people are still without broadband service, this is a goal he and I both share. Indeed, the FCC has already taken huge steps to advance broadband deployment by moving forward with the long-delayed second phases of both the Mobility Fund and the Connect America Fund.
That the Commission could move forward so quickly with these Universal Service Fund items, even during a time of agency transition, begs the question as to why they were not completed much, much sooner. Nevertheless, it is refreshing to see the agency take decisive action to help bring broadband to every corner of the country.
It is also nice to see the FCC finally move forward with two broadcasting items that will help AM radio and broadcast television better serve the American public.
I recognize, however, that not everything the Commission will do will be as nonpartisan or so positively received as Chairman Pai’s first open meeting agenda. I was a vocal critic of the previous chairman’s hyper-partisan leadership style, and I recognize it will not be an easy task to rectify some of the agency’s biggest missteps from the last few years. I am referring, of course, primarily to the 2015 Title II order and the subsequent broadband privacy order. While I am sure there are other actions that may need to be revisited, I do think we need to hit reset on both of these items. And I’m glad to see the FCC has already started that process by staying certain parts of the rules that were set to go into effect last week.
As I suspect everyone in this room knows, I feel pretty strongly that the best way to provide long-term protections for the internet is for Congress to pass bipartisan legislation. But since we don’t yet have agreement on that front, despite good will on both sides, there’s no reason for the FCC to hold off doing what is necessary to rebalance the FCC’s regulatory posture under current statutes. Something tells me much of today’s hearing will be dedicated to this topic.
The open internet debate, however, should not distract the FCC from important work it must do in other areas as well. For instance, the FCC is in the final stages of the broadcast TV incentive auction, which has been a real success. Eighty-four megahertz of spectrum have been reallocated for wireless broadband and billions of dollars dedicated for deficit reduction. While the auction process may be almost done, the FCC’s work is far from complete. The clock will soon start on the broadcaster repacking process, and this will be no small undertaking for the agency nor for many TV stations. I urge the Commission to do everything in its power to ensure this transition is successful and occurs as quickly and responsibly as possible.
Robocalls represent another problem that needs to be addressed. The FCC’s proposed rulemaking on this month’s agenda is a positive step in the right direction. The government must do everything we can to protect consumers from those who are truly the bad actors, which is one reason why this committee has also worked on anti-spoofing legislation. But we also need to be sure the government’s rules are not unfairly punishing legitimate callers who are not acting maliciously. The FCC’s proposed Notice of Inquiry will give a much-needed jumpstart to that conversation.
Lastly, I would note for my colleagues that we will be busy this year with FCC nominations. Chairman Pai’s term has expired, and he is now in his hold-over year, but just yesterday the President renominated him to another full term. There are obviously two vacant seats on the Commission right now. And Commissioner Clyburn’s current term also expires at the end of June. Once the President makes his nominations for the FCC, it is my hope that the Senate will move swiftly to review and confirm the President’s appointees. The most important thing, however, is that we not allow the FCC to fall below a functioning quorum. I know no responsible person would willingly deprive the agency of its ability to protect consumers and the marketplace, and ensuring the agency is sufficiently constituted will be a priority of mine this year.
Thank you. Ranking Member Nelson.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for calling this hearing. I want to welcome all three members of the FCC, including Chairman Pai in his first appearance before Congress in his new role. The president has renominated him and given him primary responsibility over what I believe is one of the most important consumer protection agencies of the federal government.
For the past eight years, the FCC has had the American consumer’s back. Ultimately, for this senator, the success or failure of the commission rests not on the fulfillment of special interest wish lists, but on how those who are least able to protect themselves have been treated and whether first amendment rights, including those of journalists, are vigorously protected.
Since assuming the chairmanship in the last few weeks, the FCC, under your leadership Chairman Pai, has:
•Acted to prevent millions of broadband subscribers from receiving key information about the rates, terms, and conditions of their service;
•Acted to guarantee that broadband subscribers will have less protections with respect to the security of their online data, while promising to further weaken the duties broadband providers owe to protect the web browsing history and other personal information of their paying subscribers;
•Threatened the expansion of broadband into the homes of low-income Americans by limiting the effectiveness of new Lifeline program reforms; and
• Finally, formally rescinded an FCC staff report detailing the implementation of the agency’s comprehensive E-Rate modernization effort that sent shock waves through schools and the libraries across the nation, which are worried that you will try to upend this highly functioning and bipartisan program.
These are actions that directly impact the lives of millions of Americans and I sincerely hope they are not a sign of things to come. Because, at the end of the day, the FCC has a responsibility to put the public interest ahead of powerful special interests. Just as it has with past chairman, Congress expects the commission to uphold the laws it has passed and enforce the regulations properly adopted by the agency. That is what the public interest and this senator has and will continue to demand.
In closing, I want to express my continued frustration that Jessica Rosenworcel is not sitting before us today as a commissioner. The failure to confirm her last Congress, frankly, is a black mark on the Senate. And the president’s decision to pull her nomination last week was truly unfortunate. I can only hope that the White House will see the error of its ways and re-nominate this impressive public servant for another FCC term once again. And if that happens as it should, it is imperative for the Senate leadership to live up to its promise and confirm her nomination with all dispatch.
The Honorable Ajit PaiChairmanFederal Communications Commission
The Honorable Mignon ClyburnCommissionerFederal Communications Commission
The Honorable Michael O'RiellyCommissionerFederal Communications Commission